It Happened Again, Five-Year-Old Spends Thousands of Dollars on In-App Purchases

Parental Controls Kid on iPad

Less than a week ago, Apple agreed to pay parents back for accidental in-app purchase downloads to the tune of $100 million. The iPad maker will be sending 23 million emails to consumers who complained that their children charged there iTunes account without their knowledge in order to offer them a $5 iTunes credit (cash refunds for amounts greater than $30).

Today, the Telegraph UK reported that a tech savvy five-year-old managed to download $2,500 worth of in-app purchases in only 10 minutes time. Because the tablet did not have parental controls in place, Little Danny Kitchen was able to make 19 expensive purchases on “bombs and keys” that cost the family a month’s mortgage.

Danny’s parents, Greg and Sharon Kitchen spoke with the Telegraph about the issue. “Danny was pestering us to let him have a go on the iPad. He kept saying it was a free game so my husband put in the passcode and handed it to him.”

What Kitchen didn’t realize is that, without parental controls in place, Danny had open access to purchase in-app goodies without needing to re-enter the password.

“It worried me when he asked for the password, but I had a look at the game and it said it was free, so I didn’t think there would be a problem,” said Kitchen.

Danny didn’t know there would be a problem either. “The next day, it cost lots of money. I was worried and felt sad,” he said. “I’m not sure how I did it. I thought it was free.”

Poor little guy.

Luckily, Apple has already told the Kitchens that the money will be refunded to them. “I’m relieved that they have said they are going to give us back our money,” said Mr. Kitchen. “We had to give them so much information and it’s taken three days, but I’m relieved.”

In 2010, it made a lot of sense that kids were spending money they shouldn’t have and downloading games without their parent’s permission. The iPad was new and “freemium” games were just getting big. People were still learning about what was and wasn’t capable on their device.

By March of 2011, enough mistakes had been made, and enough parents were outraged at how easy it was for their children to make iTunes purchases without their knowledge that Apple implemented parental controls.

Unfortunately, parents still don’t know about the security feature. Last August, we wrote an in-depth article on everything that parental controls can do to help you lock down your iPad and keep from making the same mistake that the Kitchens did. One of the most important things to do is to turn off in-app purchases. By going to your Settings app, then tapping the “General” tab, then the “Restrictions” tab, you’ll be able to turn off the ability to make any in-app purchases at all. This may seem inconvenient for you as a parent, but think about how inconvenient it would be if you ended up with a $2,500 credit card bill for a game you didn’t even want to play.

About Lory: Writer of all things app related, traveler of the space-time continuum, baker of really great cookies. Follow me @appaholik

  • Dani Riot

    It’s the parents fault, not Apple

    one of the first questions you get asked when you plug in and install an iPad is “do you want to turn on parental controls”

    and you have to make a yes or no decision before you can even move on to the next section.

  • M. Andrews

    When I complained, Nicki a marketing rep basically told me that I should have more control of my child and in a very polite way to just piss off.
    Thank god the courts see it different.
    I agree we should be more aware of this stuff by how do you justify a free game like Smurf Village having $99 in apps… it’s a scam and Apple got caught…

  • lorygil

    Personally, I think in-app purchases should be off by default and then have to be manually switched on. That way, every parent will know that the feature exists and people who do want to make in-app purchases on their iPad are the ones having to make extra steps.

  • Rubicon Development

    Parental Responsibility. The clue is in the title. Message ends.

  • Steve Gossett

    Perhaps parental control of their kids is key but security is still lacking on the iPad. I have often wished that In-App Purchases had its own individual password to set rather than just a master one for Restrictions. I have a password set for Restrictions and also in iTunes but kids are smart as well as observant. Normally I watch how I enter any of my passwords, making sure my kids are not looking at the screen, but at some point one of them noticed, entered it and di an In-App purchase of $1.99. I didnt notice until a few days later when I got the email notification of the purchase. Those need to go out as soon as a purchase is made, not 48 hours or more later. That would help give a heads up of a purchase. Rubicon is right though, parent responsibility.